An exciting past; still transforming lives now!
When the Angles and Saxons settled in Northumbria, their leaders like King Oswald, Saint Aidan and the Venerable Bede brought the Christian Gospel here. The people of these northern lands were then encouraged to build their own Christian Churches, and many of those historic buildings are still in existence, as at Monkwearmouth, Jarrow and Escomb. It is only after the Norman conquest when Robert Curthose built the New Castle on the Tyne and the Normans began rebuilding Durham Cathedral, that we find the first mention of a place called Quykham in the Boldon Book. This was a survey of all land and properties in the Diocese of Durham which was ordered by Bishop Pudsey in 1183. The Bishop had 35 tenants in the village of Quykham in 1183. The village of Whickham has developed from this small medieval hamlet into the beautiful place we know today.
Throughout the centuries, the historic church of St. Mary the Virgin has been the spiritual centre of the village, and very much at the heart of the life of the local community for 900 years. Throughout the centuries, St Mary's has stood strong, surviving turbulent periods of history… the Scottish ward, the Reformation, occupation by Cromwell's troops and destruction by fire. The simple beauty of our Parish Church is the hallmark of the loving care and generosity of those who built and maintained it. Local historians believe an earlier wooden building may have pre-dated the Norman built Church. Originally designed and built as a ‘two cell’ church, the oldest remaining parts are the Chancel arch, along with the three arches of the south side of the nave.
The Nave is Norman, lofty, long and stately with clerestory windows in the upper sections of the north and south walls. The four arches of the south aisle are circular without moulding, save for a slight chamfer on either side. The pillars on the south side, which date from about a hundred years after the building of the Chancel and the Nave, are each formed by a simple cylinder and a square abacus; the abrupt effect of the corners of which is softened by four stiff and peculiar moulded ornaments projecting from the circular capital. They are interesting relics from the age of transition between Norman and Early English architecture. There may, at one time, have been mural paintings of Bible stories on the walls of the Nave.
The Nave Altar
The Nave Altar was established in recent years and has become a splendid dramatic focal point for all the principal acts of worship. St Mary's has a very rich musical tradition, with an extensive repertoire of excellent liturgical music from many traditions. The Communion kneelers showing the Mary Rose and the medieval Maria Symbol were produced by the Church needlework group in 1998. The Lady Chapel in the North Aisle is used for many weekday services. The beautiful carving of the Mother and Child was produced by Ken Lakey, a local craftsman.
The Chancel Arch
The chancel arch is among the few examples of true Norman work in the North of England, for most so-called Norman architecture is really transitional in style, being built in the late 12th century under Plantagenet kings. The responds of the chancel arch date from the first quarter of the 12th century. The arch is semi-circular with two square orders both slightly chamfered, and rests on scalloped cushion capitals with a many petalled flower filling the vacant space on the north capital.
The chancel itself is part of the original fabric and retains some of its ancient features. There were originally two flat-headed windows in the south wall, but during the restoration of 1862, three semi-circular headed windows were inserted. The Priest's Door is of special interest because before the chancel was lengthened, it opened into the original sanctuary. The reredos is Victorian. On the north wall of the sanctuary is an aumbry or locker, for the sacred vessels.
Most churches have their Baptismal Font near the entrance, but St. Mary's is unique in having a more spacious Baptistry in the Tower. The ancient font is made of Frosterley marble, lead lined, with a drain hole to empty the water of baptism into consecrated ground. The font still has the remains of the staples for the securing of the font cover. There are usually flowers here, adding a personal touch of freshness and colour to
the Christian welcome.
The Entrance Porch
The original porch was built during the reconstruction of the aisles in the more Decorated Period of the 14th century. It remained intact until November 1703, when it was destroyed in the "Great Storm". It was later rebuilt using the original stones. Set in the west wall of the porch are fragments of two grave covers which may be 14th century. The Sundial over the entrance dates from 1651.
The Church Tower
The Tower is of the same period as the porch, with a parapet of later date. Its height is 47 feet. The church bells are a special historic feature of the life of St. Mary's, and were restored in 1985. They are rung regularly as a call to worship by a talented team of bell ringers. The original entry of the tower was in the nave, but since the restoration the door has been converted into a window. Access to the tower is now by the spiral staircase at the north west angle of the tower. There is an interesting entry in the Churchwarden's Book for 1715:- "Paid to Peter Shield for building up ye window under ye clock... 2/6d." He apparently did his work so well that no-one could discern where the window had been!
The Parochial School
On the north wall of the Sanctuary is a monument commemorating the life and work of Dr. Robert
Thomlinson who was Rector of Whickham for 36 years and also Prebendary of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He was a great benefactor, remembered particularly in this parish for his building of the Parochial School in 1714. This school was founded initially as a result of a legacy of £100 in the will of Mrs Blakiston of Gibside Hall, who wished to provide for the education of 30 or 36 poor children in the parish. Dr. Thomlinson increased the endowment and ensured the permanent provision of education in the village. He is also remembered for the gift of his own books with which to endow a library at St. Nicholas' Church in Newcastle. This valuable collection was later transferred to Newcastle Centre Library, and is still available today.
The original Parochial School was built about 100 yards from the Churchyard steps, and was one of the
finest in the North of England. There were 100 places at the school, and apart from the 36 free places, the other pupils would have to pay fees. In a letter to the Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in London, dated 7th April 1742, Dr. Thomlinson wrote: "I have finished the Church School here after the plan of one I had built at Wigton, in Cumberland, in which Parish I was born. It is a handsome stone building, nineteen yards in length. It stands in good air and has a pleasant prospect. The master is obliged to teach 36 poor children. The endowment arises chiefly from the two galleries which I have erected in the Parish Church, by a licence at my own expense, and am endeavouring to obtain a further endowment of £10 a year in mortmain." These galleries were removed after the Great Fire of 1841. Dr. Thomlinson's will, dated 18th November 1745, left the school and dwelling house for the master with the income from the galleries and some pews, and a further £100 in trust to the Archdeacon of Northumberland, the Vicar of Newcastle and their successors, for the support of the school.
Checkout the Parochial Schools website http://whickhamparochial.org/